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The Golden Age of Murder (2015)

af Martin Edwards

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276897,935 (3.99)50
"A real-life detective story, investigating how Agatha Christie and colleagues in a mysterious literary club transformed crime fiction, writing books casting new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors' darkest secrets."--Publisher's description.
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Viser 1-5 af 8 (næste | vis alle)
Mostly takes the form of a series of short biographies of the members of the Detection Club, with guest appearances from other writers and a focus on their books and innovations in mysteries, as well as talking about real life murders that were big news and inspired them and giving a little wider context. There's a lot of fascinating stuff in here - you might know something about Sayers' and Christie's lives (i didn't, and some of the stuff was pretty surprising to me) but there are a lot of less familiar people who had interesting lives. He also links what's written in the books with aspects of their lives - there's some speculation but nothing too outlandish. He's generally sympathetic and some of the details of the lives given are heartbreaking. The major relationships between the Detection Club members are painted well - the close look at a circle of friends is really interesting. Although he doesn't go into much detail, he does acknowledge some of the failings of books like the racism/sexism/anti-semitism involved (as well as sometimes absolutely dismal writing) so it doesn't feel like a hagiography.

He talks about Sayers' son she had before marriage with a man who immediately deserted her who she had fostered with a relative and supported her whole life but could never be to close to because of her guilt (she was strongly religious) and the fear of scandal. It was really affecting for me to read about such a horrible situation. There's also stuff about Agatha Christie's relationship to her first husband - he had an affair with another woman which was what led up to her well publicised disappearance, where she just ran away. She wanted to change her name afterwards but her publishers told her not to because her name was too recognisable as is - an amazingly callous move. He also talks in detail about Anthony Berkeley, who becomes a case study of a misogynist with a massive chip on his shoulder about the whole world and who probably had a keen interest in S&M - the writing doesn't go on the attack, but it doesn't hold back on talking about his unpleasant personality.

A few small complaints: sometimes keeping the chronology straight is confusing and adding more dates would have been really helpful. In a book like this it'd be frustrating if there were no spoilers because you couldn't understand why the books were important. however, sometimes there isn't enough of an explanation, like mentioning that a plot would become one of the most cliched mystery plots but not saying what it was. There are a couple of times there were spoilers that gave away too much, imo. It's hard to get the balance right and I don't think it ruins the book or anything and it's mostly just enough details but just a minor complaint. There are a lot of names mentioned which can be hard to keep track of (although in my opinion it never gets overwhelming or anything) - it'd have been nice to have a glossary of authors just to keep them straight and follow their thread through. I'll also say his writing on world events/politics is sometimes a little shallow/a bit off the mark but only in a minor way, just a subject close to my heart so I notice it heh. I'll say quickly there's one short chapter about a book where "transvestism" was a plot point - the author doesn't say anything bad as far as I remember but yeah.

I was sort of borderline on whether it's a 4 or 5 star book but ultimately decided 5 - I read through it very quickly because I was enjoying it so much, there's a lot of fascinating detail here, and as a whirlwind tour of the names, books and events of an era that produced some brilliant fiction it was fantastic. He tries to cover so much territory sometimes you could want a bit more detail here and there but overall it's very satisfying. One of the things he mentions is how the detectives of the Golden Age were very rarely macho - they were often women, and the men were usually flamboyant or highly eccentric and who were very much outside the typical masculine mould. He shines a light on a lot of neglected male authors but agrees that so many of the best writers were women - people like Sayers and Christie. Although I don't want to project back too much on a different era, especially one where the books often included casual bigotry, I feel a weird kind of connection to Golden Age Mystery stuff. The care put into constructing a solvable puzzle, the lack of emphasis on "realism", the general lack of macho attitude, the many female leads, the often LGBT undertones (sometimes overtones, and linked to the multiple writers who were definitely gay or lesbian or bisexual), the social commentary which often has a cathartic component with murder... there's something great about these books that speaks to me far more than many of the more "realistic" or gory or macho novels that came afterwards. This book is a great introduction to the people who made that, and gave me a long list of essays and books to read. Very recommended. ( )
  tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
The author, Martin Edwards is a British lawyer and crime fiction writer, but is perhaps best known as the current (2022) president of the (British) Detection Club, formed in the 1930s amongst invitation only (largely) British based detective/crime fiction writers, a prolific chronichiclier of crime fiction, and the editor/adviser as to the British Library's Classic Crime releases, which looks to reprint out of print gems (some 100 so far). This book focuses at least in the beginning on the so called Golden Age of Crime Fiction (nominally 1930 - end WW2)

In this book, Edwards looks at the Detection Club , and in particular its early members ...Sayers, Christie, Berkeley, Chesterton, and others... particularly as to how they (informally) challenge each other to try new formats and approaches as to crime fiction. Members of the club proposed different definitions as to what constituted crime/detection fiction (as opposed to true crime, thrillers, spy novels etc) as well as as to rules as to what constituted 'fair play' (no hidden passages; no spiritual interventions; no twins unless fairly divulged early on etc).

I have read a fair amount of such fiction and have read more as to it...there are many authors of which I have read (literally) nothing, and others very little (sometimes, a short story or 2), and this book makes me want to read much more of them, including those who I have have read of!

It was a great read, admittedly for a fan.

It has made me look further in second hand shops for those authors I have not come across yet.

For anyone who is interested this is a must. Though I am aware that Edwards has also since written The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books and most recently The Life of Crime (which I understand is a broader look at crime/detective fiction), which I am yet, but keen, to read, so if you are in 2 minds perhaps await the reviews of those reviews.

But if you are a fan of the Golden Age, read this now, so you have time later to read the following books!

Big Ship

10 October 2022 ( )
  bigship | Oct 10, 2022 |
What started out strong for the first couple of parts, started struggling towards the middle and by the end it strongly resembled the book that was soon to follow it: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books; with paragraphs and chapters stuffed with titles and authors.

Still, it's all relative, because The Golden Age of Murder remains very readable and very interesting from start to finish. It just wasn't as strong at the end as it was at the beginning and as a result, my 4 star rating of what I thought was going to be a 5 star read.

A few minor things did bother me though, in no particular order:

- Edwards assumes the reader knows their dates. This reader is crap with dates, but excellent at reading comprehension, so usually an author gives a date and I can infer the dates of later events. BUT Edwards bounces back and forth on the timeline, so he'll give a date, but then refer back to earlier events for a few paragraphs, then bounce ahead to future events, never stating any additional dates. This became painfully irritating when he started discussing King Edward's abdication, as he bounced between events that happened before his coronation, after his abdication, during his reign, etc.

I should not need supplementary reading in order to make Edwards' narrative flow correctly.

- Edwards' bias for some authors over others is pretty obvious. Which is ok - although I question how ok when someone is aiming to write an authoritative historical text. His contempt for Christianna Brand is glaring and he's outright snarky about the Coles' political beliefs, coming just short of calling them hypocrites. He seems to start out liking Anthony Berkeley, but by the end it's all pity, and perhaps a polite disgust (to be fair, I'm not sure there's much else to feel about Berkeley by the end, it sounds like his was a life wasted for want of a good psychiatrist).

He treated Christie the most objectively, and towards the end goes so far as to offer up some very rational theories for her 11 day disappearance, but at all times it's clear he has a lot of respect and admiration for her. But Edwards saves the most blatant bias for Dorothy L. Sayers; I'd go so far as to speculate that he crushes on Sayers. He's downright romantic about her throughout the book, constantly reminding the reader about her deep, dark secret and the heavy burden of guilt and responsibility she always carried with her, not to mention that drunken lout of a husband she had strung 'round her neck her whole life. And that leads me to my last gripe:

- Towards the end, Edwards does that thing that drives me insane: he speculates ahead of the facts and presents it as truth. It's not often (maybe he just rushed the end?), but several times he presents his interpretation of a book's themes, or an author's motivation, as truth without providing evidence.

The most egregious example was in the last chapter when he (again) tells the reader how big a burden Sayers carried with her throughout her life. I'm going to put the rest of it in a spoiler tag; skip the spoiler if you know nothing at all about Sayers and would like to find out for yourself, or if you just don't care that much about the whole thing, because I do go on and on.


He addresses the question: Why, after Mac finally adopted John Anthony, did she not bring John Anthony home to live with them? He tells the reader it is her guilt and fear of public shame over her youthful indiscretion that prohibited her from doing so.

Nobody knows why she didn't bring him home, because she never once wrote about John Anthony or discussed John Anthony with anybody. Ever. Not even John Anthony.

But if I were in Sayers shoes, shame/guilt/embarrassment might have had a place in my reasoning, but they would be dwarfed by the fact that I was married to a great big alcoholic who suffered from great big mood swings and PTSD, and I was never home. Edwards' romantic notions of self-flagellation via guilt and shame is nonsense. A much more rational theory is that Sayers didn't want to pull John Anthony out of a happy home environment he was born into so she could stuff him in a house as dysfunctional and unhappy as the one she was living in, just so she could come out of the closet as a mom.

I don't doubt for a second that Martin Edwards knows his stuff - far, far better than I know it, but he's trying to make Sayers into a tragic, romantic heroine that frankly from what he's told me about her personality in this book, would sicken her if she heard it. It's not logical to think that someone who was as pragmatic as Sayers was would suddenly go all romantic about her son. By the time Mac stepped up, there was no chance of righting history, so why try? Pragmatically, she did everything she legally could to legitimise John Anthony, and the best decision for John Anthony by that point was to let him keep the happy home he already had. But that's just my opinion; for all anyone knows she might just have liked not having to be a mom in more than name. We'll never know and it irritates me that Edwards claims he does. ::end of rant::


Overall, an excellent book for anyone interested in the Golden Age of crime fiction, even if it does lose a bit of steam towards the end. I'd unhesitatingly recommend it to mystery lovers who want to know more. Or to those I think have TBRs that need beefing up! ;-) ( )
  murderbydeath | Jan 22, 2022 |
Subtitle: the Mystery Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story

The detail in this is amazing! I learned so much - about the genre and about the authors.

In the end, though, I got bogged down about 3/4 of the way through - in the detail. But I don't regret a minute I spent on this.

If you're a lover of the detective stories of mid-twentieth century detective stories, especially British, you really should read this book. ( )
  ParadisePorch | Jul 30, 2019 |
I was somewhat disappointed in this book, given the subject matter and the generally glowing reviews. It is interesting, with a lot of information about the writers of which I was not aware. But I also found it wordy and slow going. Not up to Julian Symons or PD James books on the genre, in my opinion. ( )
  annbury | Mar 29, 2017 |
Viser 1-5 af 8 (næste | vis alle)
Between the outstanding anecdotes, the underlying argument of the book – that the writers were less cosy and humdrum than supposed – is convincingly won.
tilføjet af inge87 | RedigerThe Guardian, Mark Lawson (May 28, 2015)
 
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"A real-life detective story, investigating how Agatha Christie and colleagues in a mysterious literary club transformed crime fiction, writing books casting new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors' darkest secrets."--Publisher's description.

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